US exchange is 10 years old!

Andrew Sanders, class of 2005, was so impressed by his time on our US exchange scheme, that years later he married an American girl, emigrated stateside and got a job in the media industry.

He looks back at the time he spent at Moorhead and raids the photo album:

Studying abroad is great! It was one of the best experiences I had at LSM and I cannot recommend it enough.

Unless you are learning a foreign language, or taking a course that involves being international in some way, English students tend not to study abroad. While at Lincoln I lived with and had friends from all over the world, and sitting with them and talking about where they’re from and the differences between the nations I was always jealous of my international friends having the opportunity to study in another country.

Only being able to speak English I knew applying to study media in Europe I knew would be pretty detrimental to my education (“Uh, bonjour, donde est les bibliotheque, meine Herr?”)

In my second year at LSM we were told that there was an opportunity to study in Minnesota in America. Brilliant! I could study abroad AND I would be able to understand the locals. There are only three places for the chance to study in Minnesota (or MN to those in the know – it’s easier to spell) and so you had to write a pretty convincing application letter as to why you should be one of the lucky trio.

Moorhead Campus

Writing an application letter to be considered for this opportunity was hard. How do you write a letter basically saying why you are great without sounding like a complete berk? All I can say it is very difficult, but it is a skill you have to learn because that is essentially what your CV and cover letters have to do when applying for jobs after graduation and in media you are applying for a job every few months thanks to the freelancing side of the job.

I stayed up in the old library building very late trying to put together the perfect letter to Nigel Morris selling my self in a non-berky way. I don’t think I fully succeeded in this, but I was very lucky a week or so later to be informed that I had been selected for the programme!

What came next was a lot of administrative stuff. I was fortunate enough to know the two guys who were also going on the exchange also (both were named Tom) and we sat together as Nigel Morris guided us through the student visa immigration process.

After months of visas and paperwork from MSUM (Minnesota State University Moorhead) to fill out it was finally time to pack up and head out to the States. I booked my plane ticket with one of the Toms and one morning in late August we were seen off at Heathrow by two sets of parents. We had a connecting flight that did a stop-over in Chicago. We dropped our bags off, got something to eat and then boarded our second plane.

When we finally arrived in Fargo airport we were met by some representatives of the International Student group. Really nice guys who picked us up, took us for something to eat and then dropped us off at the college – it was late and the only thing we wanted to do was get to bed. Being shown to my room in halls was remarkably similar to my first day at university. The door shut behind me and there I was alone in an empty room with a cupboard, a desk and a couple of beds (I would be receiving a roommate, however I never saw him). I chose one of the beds and just passed out.

School Logo!

As the other students arrived on campus to begin the semester it was one of the busiest weeks at MSUM. You have to find your classes, buy your books and try to figure out where everything was on campus. The buildings at MSUM are deceptively large, and so it was particularly easy to get lost in them, and while doing the academic side of things you are also meeting all the other students at college. You meet the people you share a building with, and then everyone in class and then friends of people that you have met. It is your fresher’s week all over again.

While I was at MSUM I made some amazing friends, many of which I am still in contact with today thanks to Facebook and E-mail. Though I could bore you with stories of things we got up to, which are entertaining to no one but ourselves I want to share with you a few things I got to do.

In the USA the drinking age is 21, and underage drinking is a big deal. As an international student if you are caught with alcohol underage it can be grounds for deportation (very scary, I know!) At LSM my friends and I used to waste away the hours at the Shed or the SU, and very good times they were too. In MN we used to go to Perkins, a 24 hour diner chain and we would stay there until all hours of night/morning talking, eating and drinking coffee. Sometimes we would actually take our coursework with us and work while taking advantage of the free refills of coffee and soft drinks, which America has the right idea in providing! Not only was it slightly more productive than my evenings at the Shed, but they were just as fun.

One of the big holidays in the USA is Thanksgiving. Britain needs its own equivalent, it’s like Christmas, with a huge family dinner of turkey but you don’t have to buy presents for people. It’s fantastic! At Thanksgiving MSUM shuts down for the week so my friend Jace took me to stay with his family on their farm in North Dakota. I had never experienced anything like it. I earned my keep working on the farm. His dad took me hunting with him and Jace’s uncles – though I didn’t shoot anything.

Jace’s dad took my aversion to guns to mean I was a “bleedin’ heart liberal”. When I explained to him it was because I was English and that guns are not a big part of our culture he took me out to his field with a small arsenal and taught me the basics of shooting. I’m not going to lie, it is a brilliant feeling. I live in America now and have no desire to arm myself, but I appreciate why people here want to own guns and go hunting (just as long as they miss the poor animal).

MSUM is about three hours away from Minneapolis so a friend and I took a couple days off from college and we went to stay with her family who lived just outside Minneapolis for a few days. It is a beautiful city, and I got to see a small American town called Stillwater – it looked like it was straight out of an old film.

Shop til you drop - and the rest

Minneapolis is also the home to the Mall of America. This is the biggest mall in the world, which has its own theme park in the middle of it. I didn’t believe my friend when she told me about it, thinking it would be a couple of carousels and overpriced snack food, but there is a whacking great big rollercoaster in there! I had never seen anything like it.

Compare the Engine Shed......

What is hard to describe is how big a part of college life in America that sports are. While five years ago the MSUM football team wasn’t the most able American Football college team (I hate to say it, but they were rubbish – I am sure that is no longer the case) we would all go to their games, or go and watch the girls basketball team play (they were significantly better than the football team!) against other colleges.

Spot the ball?

For one game my friend Jace and I travelled down to South Dakota to see the MSUM team get horrendously beaten by the University of South Dakota team, but it didn’t matter. American sporting events are a spectacle! The coach of the team came out onto the field riding a motorcycle and gave a speech. The team’s mascot ran up and down the field, and the cheer leaders hollered supportive cheers while spinning and jumping up and down in the air. If you think in their films they are over exaggerating college sporting events I can tell you that they are in fact pretty accurate representations!

There is also homecoming where the school pretty much puts on a big party for its sports teams, and cheer leaders. There is music, a huge bonfire and a lot of cheering. This is then followed by numerous parties off campus.

I could tell you a lot more stories, but as I said they are probably entertaining only to me.

One big concern for the Toms and I about going to study in your third year was the effect on our course in the UK. The grades you achieve at MSUM are transposed and taken into account of your degree at Lincoln – however all three of us were working on the dreaded dissertation and I had taken the TV Studio unit as my focus in the third year. I was able to work out a deal with my less than happy group in TV and my tutors for me to be able to come back and continue with the work in the second semester (though my group and I communicated via E-mail).

However I feel the exchange was a bonus to my dissertation. I was writing about American Gangster films – because of this I took American Studies and was able to incorporate what we studied in that class of America at the turn of the century into my work. This class was invaluable to my dissertation and when the Toms and I returned back to the UK we found that we had all done more work on our dissertations than our LSM peers.

Part of this was due to that we were all probably paranoid that we would fall behind while at MSUM so made more of a point of sitting down and doing work on them than if we were in our normal surroundings. However we knew that we only had a few months at MSUM and so we made the most out of the members of staff and the resources there so when we returned to LSM we could work with our tutors on what we had learned so far and gain a fresh perspective to our work.

In many ways studying at MSUM gave me an advantage when it came to my dissertation as when writing about American Gangster films where better to begin researching then in America?

Threshers' week?

The other courses I took were Ethics (we were required to take this – it was about media ethics), Directing and Documentary Making. The Documentary Class was fun, it was very hands on. We made a documentary film about a local steam thresher festival in MN called Rollag.

This is a huge celebration of steam engines and agricultural equipment from days past. It is also a celebration of Americana. At night there is a Country & Western concert where the performers are people from the festival who just get up and play for fun. The food is traditional American fare of BBQ beans, grits and apple pie, and everyone at the festival is fiercely proud of being American. It is as opposite to the UK you can get. We filmed at the festival for two days, each team of us covering a different aspect of the festival and then putting it together in the edit suite. It turned out really well.

In the directing class we learned about blocking, and the technical aspects of filming a scene. This was a great refresher and extension to what we learned on our video units LSM. Instead of filming things that we wrote ourselves we were each given scenes from existing movies to make. We were allowed to rewrite the scene and present them in any way we wished as long as it bore a resemblance to what was put on the page. This was probably the most fun class I took at MSUM as we all had to work together as a team making these films, each being director for our own scenes and then watching them all back in class – and then with a couple of the scenes comparing them to the originals.

We had to remake a scene of a movie with actors that had done screen tests of the class. When completed these were screened to an audience in one of the lecture rooms to be followed by a question answer session, one of the most nerve wracking screenings I had ever done as I was remaking a scene from Requiem For a Dream, a film its fans are furiously protective of. My scene received mixed reviews.

While I was at MSUM I had many adventures, which has led to more good memories than I could ever write here. My time there enhanced the (already excellent) education I was receiving at LSM. The staff I encountered at MSUM were a fantastic team of educators. One in particular was Wayne Gudmunson, who was like our counselor while at the college. He helped us on our dissertations, made sure that we were happy with what we were doing and had us round for dinner and drinks at his house on a couple of occasions. His door was always open for us to go and see him.

If there is one thing that I am proudest of during my time at LSM it is taking part in this exchange programme. Not only did it provide me with a more rounded education than I was already receiving, but it also gave me some of the most fun experiences of my life that I am incredibly thankful for!